Sometimes when you have something taken away from you, you realize how precious it really was. I found this out the hard way two years ago, when at the age of fifty I lost my vision as a result of a stroke. Since my early teens I had experienced crushing migraine headaches that were accompanied by an aura. I would suddenly loose my peripheral vision on both sides and gradually my field of vision would blur. I was still able to function, but I knew that I was due for an intense migraine, so I learned to take steps to minimize the pain. I mention the early migraines as background so that you will understand that the loss of vision I experienced through my life was not unusual, it would return and it was not permanent.
I had been having excruciating headaches for weeks and fluctuating blood pressure readings. The headaches were not typical of the migraines I was used to. I went to numerous doctors and I tried to explain that these were not the same type of migraines. The pain was so bad I felt like I was going to die. I really felt I was having a seizure. These attacks as I started to call them were accompanied by very high blood pressure readings. Sometimes my drug store cuff wouldn't register the reading. I went to the emergency room three times in my home town. I saw neurologists and nephrologists. I had countless tests done, blood work, MRI's and nothing was found.
On Memorial Day weekend of 2006, I was having a special test done at a hospital thirty minutes away from my house. Everything was going fine and I was chatting with my girlfriend Ellen. As I walked out of the lab I felt weak and faint. The next thing I knew a nurse had a wheelchair under me and was wheeling me down a corridor. Ellen told me we were going to the emergency room. Well, I thought, finally they are going to figure out what is wrong with me. No such luck. They ran some more tests, kept me for a few hours and released me. My blood pressure that was extremely low upon arrival had stabilized.
Ellen was driving and we started home but we decided to stop to grab something to eat. Jokingly, I said to Ellen, I'm glad you are driving, because I can barely see. She looked at me and said, "What do you mean?"
"Ellen, I can't see peripherally, it seems blurry, like I'm going to get a migraine." Ellen said we better get home, so we opted not to eat and headed to my house. I felt awful by then because thirty minutes had gone by. I told Ellen I was going to lay down. Sometime later, Ellen woke me up to tell me she had called my doctor. He said that if my vision wasn't better by morning to come into the emergency room.
I really didn't want to talk to anyone and just wanted to sleep and didn't wake until morning. When I got up and opened my eyes, I was scared. I called out to Ellen, who had been staying with me to help out. When she came into my room, I told her I couldn't see. At that point she called my doctor and we went to the hospital.
After at least an hour of tiring tests, questions, more tests, an MRI, a CAT scan and a seemingly endless parade of doctors and nursed in and out, the neurologist came in. He asked everyone to leave and closed the door. He looked at me and said, "Donna, you have had a stroke. It is too soon to tell how bad and what the permanent damage is, but it is an opthamological stroke. Which means, it has impaired your vision. I don't know if it will come back."
At that moment, I was numb. Random thoughts drifted in and out of my thinking. Nothing could be worse in my life. A stroke, at my age? I can't drive? Wait. I can't read? That's my career. I read. I am a voracious reader, a librarian/media specialist. Reading and sharing books with students, kids, teachers, friends is my life. How could this happen? The doctor explained what they were going to do next and this and that, but I wasn't listening. I was crying inside. I was so lonely. I wanted my mom, and she had died many years before.
So, how did this become my favorite summer reading experience?
It was truly a magical moment, perhaps a miracle, whatever you chose to call it. I know what I believe. Slowly after about four weeks went by I was able to see shapes, blurred but images that moved. Then as I faced each new day, my vision slowly improved. My doctors truly were amazed and stunned and I was thrilled. I started to read some short articles and magazines. I was smiling inside and feeling blessed, feeling lucky, feeling grateful that I could read again. I will never forget it and never take my eyesight or the ability to read for granted ever again. This was my favorite summer reading experience!